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Don't do it!

When completing a piece on a story about, say, a homeless man in your town, you might be tempted to give an obviously needy person money in exchange for recording some pictures and asking a few questions about his life.

You feel sorry for him. He could use a solid meal and a place to stay. Why not give him a bit of cash?

Don't do it!
The journalism profession has a strict code that prohibits reporters, photojournalists or videographers from paying subjects for interviews, information or access. This code of ethics does not allow giving gifts in exchange for an on- or off-camera interview. Journalists simply must refrain from the temptation to hand over money. Some media organizations even prohibit buying a prospective subject a meal.

Why? First, let's call it what it is, or at least what it is seen to be: A bribe.

The reason for the "no bribe" rule is that once journalists pay for information, their relationship with a subject becomes a business proposition. This business arrangement can impact the veracity and accuracy of information conveyed.

The Street person, for example, might not tell the whole truth or the "same truth" if he knows his answers are tied to a monetary reward. He might say what he hopes the interviewer wants to hear in hopes of getting a still greater payoff.

Also, a bribe sets a precedent. Subsequent journalists are likely to be asked for more and more money in exchange for an on-camera appearance.

Perhaps most important, the public has less trust in a report that involves exchanging money for an interview.

Bottom line. Avoid "checkbook" journalism by never offering and, if asked, refusing to give cash for contacts.